Officials accused of ignoring tainted blood plead not guilty to neglect charges
TORONTO – Three Canadian health officials, a U.S. pharmaceutical company and one of its senior American executives pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that their neglect allowed thousands of Canadians to contract HIV through tainted blood.After weeks of delay and initial fears that some charges would be thrown out, hemophiliacs who received the tainted blood and relatives of those too ill to come to court – or who have already died – were relieved when the trial finally got under way.The courtroom was filled with victims and family members of those who received the contaminated blood products from Bridgewater, N.J.-based Armour Pharmaceutical Co. One HIV-positive woman sat with her husband and two daughters, a toilet paper roll at her side as she repeatedly dabbed at her eyes and glared at the defendants.”I think the victims want to see justice done,” said James Kreppner, a hemophiliac who received tainted blood in the 1980s and is now gravely ill with HIV and hepatitis C.”They have lost a lot of people over the years, but they obviously haven’t forgotten, so I’m pleased to see them here today,” said Kreppner, who tested positive for HIV shortly after he graduated from law school.More than 1,000 Canadians became infected with HIV and up to 20,000 others contracted hepatitis C after receiving blood transfusions and tainted products from Armour in the 1980s and early 1990s. At least 3,000 people have died and others remain terminally ill.The charges filed in November 2002 claimed that the accused failed to properly screen blood donors or their blood, then failed to warn the public and Canadian government about the risks associated with their blood product, Factorate.The defendants are Dr. Roger Perrault, the former medical director for the Canadian Red Cross; Drs. Donald Wark Boucher and John Furesz, former officials at the federal agency Health Canada; and Dr. Michael Rodell, a former vice president of Armour Pharmaceuticals.Each physician waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded not guilty to five counts of criminal negligence and failure to prevent the distribution of Factorate. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted by the judge.The company faces an additional charge of failing to notify Canadian authorities that it continued to market its blood-clotting products for two years after being told in 1985 that the heating process with which the product was treated would not kill the HIV virus.The trial is expected to last a year.Ann-Marie Fry, 23, attended the opening arguments on behalf of her mother, Sue Fry, who was too ill to attend. Sue Fry contracted HIV after a blood transfusion from the Canadian Red Cross during surgery.”We have a right to know how this could happen, so that it won’t happen again,” said Fry, who was in third grade when her mother learned she was HIV-positive. She now counsels fellow college students to practice safe sex and volunteers at summer camps for HIV-positive children.”The more information that gets out there, the better,” said Fry, choking back tears as she talked about a 6-year-old girl she befriended at camp. “I heard she just died.”Vail, Colorado
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